Pic of the day – on the planet Mercury

NASA has released an image that appears to show Han Solo trapped in carbonite on the surface of Mercury.

Taken by the Messenger probe in 2011, the newly released image shows a surface feature that looks vaguely like the outline of a human body — except that it’s miles across.

The clever folks working the Messenger mission noticed the resemblance right away:

“If there are two things you should remember, it’s not to cross a Hutt, and that Mercury’s surface can throw up all kinds of surprises. In this image, a portion of the terrain surrounding the northern margin of the Caloris basin hosts an elevated block in the shape of a certain carbonite-encased smuggler who can make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. This block may be part of the original surface that pre-dates the formation of Caloris, which was shaped by material ejected during the basin-forming event.”

NASA scientists are also sure to point out that the phenomenon of seeing recognizable shapes in random landforms is a form of pareidolia — a common occurrence when gazing at planetary surfaces, as anyone who remembers the “Mars rat” knows.

Happens all the time. Only a problem when True Believers of one flavor or another try to shape material reality to fit their particular superstition. Yeah, I know – no harm if it makes them feel good. But, then, earlier this week, we had a guy go from using his Elf Weapon online to slay alien invaders to murdering real people.

For the first time since 2004 – see 5 bright planets in the night sky

For the first time in almost a decade, sky-watchers this week will be able to see all five naked-eye planets over the course of one night for several nights in a row.

The classical naked-eye planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—can be seen easily without optical aids and so have been known since ancient times. But the quintet hasn’t appeared together during a single night since 2004.

What’s more, this week’s parade of planets will be joined in the nighttime skies by the waxing crescent to waxing gibbous moon and the superbright stars Sirius and Canopus…

Although the moon and the seven bright objects will all be visible in one night, they won’t all appear at the same time or in the same region of the sky.

The best time to catch sight of the cosmic parade will be between February 28 and March 7. This is when the more elusive planets Mercury and Mars will be at their brightest in the evening sky for 2012, and when the moon will be above the horizon for many hours before setting…

“The moon, of course, is our closest cosmic neighbor and the only one we can really study as a world with the naked eye or even simple binoculars…However these other points of light are all really bright objects in the sky too, so to get the full experience, take your time and let your eyes adapt to the darkness and enjoy..” said Geza Gyuk, an astronomer with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

RTFA for suggestions in where to look and when. Enjoy. I hope you live somewhere with little light or no pollution.

Sorry, Northern Hemisphere only. 🙂

EPA finalizes limits on mercury, toxic emissions, from power plants

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized new federal standards on toxic pollutants and mercury emissions from coal power plants Wednesday, a move being praised by environmentalists but criticized by others, who predict lost jobs and a strain on the nation’s power grid.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, at an event at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, announced that for the first time U.S. coal and oil-fired power plant operators must limit their emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.

“I am glad to be here to mark the finalization of a clean air rule that has been 20 years in the making, and is now ready to start improving our health, protecting our children, and cleaning up our air,” Jackson said. “Under the Clean Air Act these standards will require American power plants to put in place proven and widely available pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases. In and of itself, this is a great victory for public health, especially for the health of our children…”

All qualities which mean nothing to people who paper their souls with greenbacks and pimp for profits above all else on this tawdry planet.

“These standards rank among the three or four most significant environmental achievements in the EPA’s history,” said John Walke, clean air director of the National Resources Defense Council. “This rule making represents a generational achievement.”

The new regulations are among the most wide-reaching to come from the EPA during Barack Obama’s administration. They include separate limits for mercury emissions, acid gasses, and other pollutants from several metals…

According to an EPA analysis, the larger economic benefits of the reduced pollution will more than pay for the short-term clean-up costs. The EPA also predicts more jobs will be created than lost as power plants invest million of dollars in upgrades.

It also estimates health costs — as a result of less exposure to these toxins — will be reduced to between $59 billion and $140 billion by 2016, and the new regulations will prevent 17,000 premature deaths each year…

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group traditionally sympathetic to Republicans, has aired ads urging listeners not to “let the EPA turn out the lights on the American economy…”

If memory serves me right, the US Chamber of Commerce didn’t spent a cent on whining about sub-prime derivatives and sleazy Wall Street practices that dumped the world’s economy into the crapper a few years back. Anyone sense something hypocritical about that?

NASA’s first pictures of Mercury taken from orbit

A spidery crater named for a French composer features in the very first picture MESSENGER took from orbit around Mercury, taken March 29 and released March 30.

Debussy Crater had been known since before MESSENGER’s arrival, thanks to its brilliant appearance in Earth-based radar images of Mercury. But no spacecraft had seen Debussy in visible light until MESSENGER made a flyby on its way into orbit.

The new shot of the 80-kilometer-wide crater is a composite of three out of eight images taken through different light filters. Combining images taken at multiple wavelengths can reveal changes across Mercury’s surface, since different minerals reflect light in unique ways. A black-and-white version of this Mercury picture was released on March 29.

RTFA – go to the NatGeo site and click through each photo and description. Delightful.

EPA will limit mercury, other pollutants from cement plants

The Environmental Protection Agency has completed regulations limiting the release of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from cement plants, a move the Obama administration said would save lives but that cement makers warned could drive jobs overseas.

This is the first time the federal government has restricted emissions from existing cement kilns. The regulations aim to reduce, by 2013, the annual emissions of mercury and particulate matter by 92%, hydrochloric acid by 97% and sulfur dioxide by 78%.

EPA officials said the limits would benefit children, whose brains can be damaged by mercury that makes its way through the air to water and then to fish that children eat. They also predicted the rules would stave off thousands of premature heart and lung deaths each year attributed to particulate pollution.

By reducing harmful pollutants in the air we breathe, we cut the risk of asthma attacks and save lives,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

Environmentalists said California, which is the nation’s largest producer of cement and has several heavy-emitting kilns, would see particularly high public health returns…

Cement producers said the rules would cost them “several billion dollars” to implement by installing pollution scrubbers at existing kilns. They warned that regulations could lead to plant closures and job outsourcing.

There’s more of the same from the corporate suits. Mostly crap threats.

They know that products with safety regulations governing their manufacture in the USA are just as easy to ban from import under the same regulations.

True. Manufacturers needn’t worry much about laws being enforced under a Republican administration; but, I believe we’re safe from that for another six years, anyway. Especially if the GOP continues to be led around by nose rings attached to teabaggers who wish for leaded gas, free cigarettes for schoolchildren and the return of black-and-white TV.

Mercury <1% Ford’s market share = Bye-bye in Q4

My kind of Mercury

This was bound to happen sooner or later. Over the last ten years, Mercury’s sales numbers have plummeted, and currently, the brand only accounts for 0.8 percent of Ford Motor Company’s overall market share. In a press conference this afternoon…the automaker has officially announced that Mercury will be discontinued in the fourth quarter of this year.

With all of the forward momentum that Ford has been experiencing over the past few years, no brand-specific models were introduced to the Mercury lineup. What’s more, the vast majority of recent Mercury purchases were made through discounts offered to retirees, friends and family. Mercury’s dealer network (coupled with the Lincoln brand) is currently in the process of being notified about Ford’s decision, and owners are reassured that existing Mercury products can still be serviced at any Ford or (newly standalone) Lincoln dealer.

But it isn’t all bad news down in Dearborn – Ford is using Mercury’s demise as a better reason to seriously beef up the Lincoln brand. Including the 2011 MKZ Hybrid and refreshed 2011 MKX, Ford is expanding the Lincoln lineup with the addition of seven all-new or wholly refreshed vehicles, including the brand’s first-ever C-segment vehicle, possibly related to the C Concept that we saw at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show.

Furthermore, Lincoln will be offering EcoBoost powertrains across the entire lineup, including the next-generation Navigator full-size SUV. Ford is committed to making Lincoln substantially more prosperous in America, saying that the brand will house more useful features and technology than any other competitor, as well as offering the most fuel-efficient lineup of luxury vehicles.

Alan Mulally is the closest thing to Steve Jobs currently in the U.S. automobile industry. What I mean by that is the ability to see far enough ahead of consumers’ needs and requirements to get the next best thing ready in time for that market.

Whether it’s ahead or not, it will feel as if it is. For example, I never thought I’d see an American car company cranking turbo-charged engines and not only using that increase in efficiency to move the vehicle and save fuel; but, move the sales.

Disclaimer: I own enough Ford shares to buy a fraction of a Fiesta. But, I admit I bought ’em cheap.


Long-term research verifies amalgam dental fillings are safe

Doctor Mackert

Dental amalgam has been proven safe and effective for years, yet unfounded controversy still surrounds it.

Dentists have used amalgam, an alloy of mercury with at least one other metal, in fillings for over 200 years. Amalgam fillings don’t contain enough mercury to cause potential health problems associated with larger doses, says Dr. Rod Mackert, professor of dental materials.

The dose makes the poison,” he says, quoting 16th century Swiss physician Paracelsus. A person would need between 265 and 310 amalgam fillings before even slight symptoms of mercury toxicity could be felt. A person with seven fillings, which is average, absorbs only about one microgram of mercury daily. About six micrograms are absorbed daily from food, water and air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency…

Urban legends abound, including erroneous reports linking vapors from amalgam fillings to kidney damage and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. The only documented health effects of amalgam fillings are rare allergic reactions, Dr. Mackert says, but the controversy led many people to have their fillings removed in the misguided hope of curing neurological diseases.

That controversy continues today. “It’s mystifying that people persist in saying there is cause for concern with amalgam fillings when there’s no evidence that they cause adverse health effects,” Dr. Mackert says.

I have a few amalgam fillings in my noggin that are over a half-century old. No side effects other than a strange compulsion to smack people who refuse to read science upside the head.

Doorstep Astronomy: Mercury in the Morning

During these next three weeks we will be presented with an excellent opportunity to view Mercury in the early morning dawn sky. Mercury is called an “inferior planet” because its orbit is nearer to the sun than the Earth’s. Therefore, it always appears from our vantage point to be in the same general direction as the sun…

In the pre-Christian era, this planet actually had two names, as it was not realized it could alternately appear on one side of the sun and then the other. Mercury was called Mercury when in the evening sky, but was known as Apollo when it appeared in the morning. It is said that Pythagoras, about the fifth century B.C., pointed out that they were one and the same.

Mercury rises before the sun all of this month and is surprisingly easy to see from now through Nov. 5. All you have to do is just look low above the eastern horizon during morning twilight, from about 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise for a bright yellowish-orange “star.”

Mercury will be at its greatest western elongation, 18 degrees to the west of the sun, on Oct. 22, rising as dawn breaks, and making this Mercury’s best morning apparition of 2004. Mercury, like Venus, appears to go through phases like the moon. Shortly after passing inferior conjunction on Oct. 6, Mercury was just a slender crescent. Currently, it appears about one-third illuminated, but the amount of its surface illuminated by the sun will continue to increase in the days to come. So although it will begin to turn back toward the sun’s vicinity after Oct. 22, it will continue to brighten steadily, which should help keep it in easy view over the following couple of weeks.

Helping to aid in identifying Mercury will be a lovely crescent moon. Early on the morning of Oct. 26, at about an hour before sunrise, you’ll find the moon low in the east-southeast sky and Mercury will appear as a bright star-like object well below and to the moon’s left.

The article has plenty of detail, history, science and common sense suggestions for watching. Enjoy this special opportunity to see one of our downhill neighbors.